Friday, January 8, 2016

Closing the consulate in Philadelphia is a big mistake

Danny Ayalon,

image from

If closing some offices abroad is unavoidable, it would be much more prudent to close embassies elsewhere, even in Sweden, Norway or Ireland whose governments have been viciously anti-Israel.

Closing Israeli embassies and consulates abroad is a painful but necessary step as a result of the budget cuts in our Foreign Ministry. In order to meet Israel’s many challenges today, it is far more important to allocate our shrinking financial resources to dynamic political and public diplomacy efforts than to maintain costly real estate. However, the inclusion of the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia, or any other Israeli consulate in the US, in the closure list is a bad mistake.

Today Israel has nine consulates in the United States in addition to the embassy in Washington. These consulates are located in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and Atlanta. Together with the embassy, they cover the entire territory of 50 states.

Each is responsible for an economic and technological area far more important to Israel’s economy then most embassies throughout the globe, no excepting powerful emerging economies including in Asia.

Because of the American system of governance, there is a strong relationship between the political decision-makers in Washington and their constituencies in their states and 435 congressional districts. It is imperative that Israel have direct, daily contact with grassroots America to maintain support for Israel among the diverse American people.

Given the vast size of the US, the distribution of the population, the changing demographics and cultures, we are more vulnerable today to the efforts of our enemies as they concentrate their best efforts to drive a wedge between us and the American people. In the past few years, the Palestinians and their Muslim allies have worked intensively in the US to undermine Israel’s standing and to destroy America’s natural affinity for the Jewish nation.

We have seen more American organizations turn unexpectedly against Israel – organizations such as the American Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the divestment movement that targets American companies such as Caterpillar. This maybe a foreshadowing of a growing momentum of the BDS movement in America. All this is the result of a constant, diligent Palestinian campaign.

Their campaign in the US follows the successful strategy that they implemented in Europe. What they achieved in 30 years in Europe, could take much less time in this age of Internet, social media and rapid cultural and demographic changes in the United States. The Israeli consulates in the United States are the front-line defenders of Israel’s interests and standing there, and as such should be strengthened and not weakened.

If closing some offices abroad is an unavoidable necessity, it would be much more prudent to close embassies elsewhere, even in Sweden, Norway or Ireland whose governments and public opinion have long been viciously anti-Israel and whose economic importance for us is no match to that of any region in the US, including Philadelphia. Rather, it would be wise to open more consulates in new centers of economic influence, diverse demographics and increased importance such as Denver, New Orleans and Seattle, to name a few.

It is inconceivable that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also our foreign minister, who grew up in Philadelphia and is an expert on America, would allow this to happen. This decision is still reversible.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US.

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